Tag Archives: Dr. Stephen Parker

Pain vs. suffering: why they’re not the same for patients

19 Feb

by Carolyn Thomas      @HeartSisters

I’ve written a lot (here, here, and here, for example) about cardiac pain, because I live with a lot of cardiac pain called refractory angina due to a pesky post-heart attack diagnosis of coronary microvascular disease. This pain varies, but it hits almost every day, sometimes several episodes per day, and it can feel very much like the symptoms I experienced while busy surviving what doctors call the widow maker heart attack in 2008.

But there’s pain, and then there’s suffering. The two are not the same.

I spent many years working in the field of hospice palliative care, where we all learned the legendary Dame Cicely Saunders‘ definition of what she called total pain”.(1)  This is the suffering that encompasses ALL of a person’s physical, psychological, social, spiritual, and practical struggles. Although addressing total pain is an accepted component of providing good end-of-life care for the dying, the concept seems to be often ignored in cardiac care for the living. Continue reading

More drugs, less talk for post-heart attack depression?

11 Dec

Pill Box

by Carolyn Thomas     @HeartSisters

We know that many heart patients (like me, for example), experience some degree of situational depression immediately following a cardiac event. When we seek help, that help is far more likely to come as a prescription for an antidepressant drug rather than a referral to a professional for talk therapy. In fact, talk therapy – either by itself or in combination with medication – is actually on the decline(1) while the rate of antidepressant use has increased by almost 400% in the past two decades.(2)

This is important, because we also know from 2015 research on depression published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) that, for most people, there is no statistically significant difference in effectiveness between talk therapy and taking drugs.(3) When researchers tracked treatment outcomes for those suffering from depression, they found patients responded equally to either treatment. So why hasn’t the rate of talk therapy gone up by 400%, too? Continue reading

“I’m the least depressed person on earth, except when I’m depressed”

17 Mar

by Carolyn Thomas  @HeartSisters

When I learned that Dr. Sherwin Nuland was going to be doing a guest lecture at the University of Victoria here back in 2012, I was among the first in town to book tickets. I loved his book called How We Die (a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize) ever since I’d featured his chapter on death and heart disease three years earlier here.

His sold-out UVic audience was enthralled by his engaging manner and compelling excerpts read from his newest book called The Art of Aging: A Doctor’s Prescription for Well-Being.

But I was even more intrigued by this famous surgeon/Yale University professor’s personal stories of his own experience living with debilitating depression – a depression so crippling, so impossible to shift, that in his 40s his doctors were considering doing a pre-frontal lobotomy.   Continue reading

30 little things about my invisible illness you may not know

8 Sep

by Carolyn Thomas

It’s Invisible Chronic Illness Awareness Week and this year, the campaign organizers have provided a 30 Things template for bloggers like me. Most of us look and sound pretty much the way we did before being diagnosed with a chronic and progressive illness which may not be at all visibly obvious to the outside world. This can then make it challenging for those around us to ‘get it’ when we are struggling with debilitating symptoms. So with the hope of helping to expand public awareness into next week and beyond, here goes:

1. The illness I live with is called: Inoperable Coronary Microvascular Disease

2. I was diagnosed with it in the year: 2009

3. But I had symptoms since: I survived a “widow maker” heart attack in May 2008 (which was two weeks after I was originally sent home from the E.R. misdiagnosed with acid reflux – despite presenting with textbook heart attack symptoms like crushing chest pain, nausea, sweating and pain radiating down my left arm). Later emergency treatment finally confirmed a myocardial infarction (heart attack), but debilitating cardiac symptoms continued after I was sent home – and that meant more tests, more hospital procedures, more meds, more treatment – until my microvascular disease diagnosis.

4. The biggest adjustment I’ve had to make is: not being able to continue working in my public relations career due to ongoing cardiac symptoms; for me, this has also meant the demoralizing experience of needing to apply for (and then learn to live on) a disability pension.

5. Most people assume I’m: my same old self. I am not.  Continue reading

A heart patient’s positive attitude: a “crazy, crazy idea”?

8 Jun

by Carolyn Thomas  @HeartSisters

I blame genetics – and three decades spent working in public relations – for generally making me one of those smiley, glass-half-full, annoyingly über-positive personalities much of the time. Not even horrific symptoms during my heart attack could alter the weak happy face that seemed freakishly pasted on throughout that ordeal.

It’s as if I were channeling Elizabeth Banks classic character in her short yet brilliant film Just A Little Heart Attack – in which she attempts to smile brightly despite textbook cardiac symptoms, and even good-naturedly taunts her concerned family:

“Do I look like the kind of person who’s having a HEART ATTACK?”

Don’t make a fuss. Chin up. Don’t worry, be happy. Just get on with it. I’m fine, just fine.

Trouble is: people like me who sport a perma-smiley face may not be “fine”. Not at all. And I now believe that feeling obliged to pretend we are what we’re not can be both physically and psychologically damaging.   Continue reading